Arkansas fishing is open all year, but summer is catfish season.
Old Whiskers is truly a wonderful fish, be it a channel catfish, flathead catfish or blue ‘cat. There are so many ways to catch them, and they all work during summer.
Sit on a lawn chair in the shade and fish with rod and reel. Go jug fishing by tying some twine and a hook to a pop bottle, milk jug or a foot-long section of foam swimming noodle. Running a trotline is like stringing a clothes line between two trees, except there are dropper lines with hooks instead of shirts and pants.
Be sure the lake you’re fishing allows jugs, limblines and trotlines and follow the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission regulations.
Rarely do anglers fool catfish with lures. They feed ’em with bait. Nightcrawlers, stink bait and worms are great for catching channel ‘cats. Chunks of cut bait such as cut-up sunfish or shad get blue catfish to bite. Flatheads like their bait alive. Small sunfish are the hottest flathead bait going.
Who doesn’t like catching big fish? Flathead and blue ‘cats are among the monsters of fresh water. The flathead state record is 80 pounds even, caught in the Arkansas River. The blue catfish record is a whopping 116 pounds, 12 ounces caught from the Mississippi River. Channel catfish get big, too. Channel ‘cat record is 38 pounds even caught at Lake Ouachita.
After the catching, there’s the eating. Catfish are great on a plate. Look at all the restaurants that specialize in delicious farm-raised catfish. A catfish feast is a dinner of pride when you catch your own.
In our college days, my pal Hog Ears and I pretty much lived on fried catfish and fried potatoes during the summer. We both rented what had to be the first experimental Air Stream camping trailer our landlord had on a corner of his property on Table Rock Lake. The place was close to our summer jobs at Table Rock State Park.
Hog Ears was a camp fee collector. My job at the marina came with a great perk of a small boat and motor my boss let me use all summer. We kept that 16-foot aluminum Rich Line boat and outboard tied up at our landlord’s dock.
Around sundown, we’d bait up a dozen or so limblines we’d hung from branches over the water in a nearby cove. Little sunfish about 3-inches long were our bait of choice. Schools of sunfish lived under the dock, so it was easy to catch a bucket of bait in a hurry.
In the middle of the night, we’d run our lines that were dancing with feisty catfish. We’d bring home the bounty, clean our fish and have a fish fry at 2 in the morning. You can do that kind of thing when you’re 20.
Another random thought about catfish: Every June we here at the newspaper cover the big fishing derby for kids out at the Charlie Craig State Fish Hatchery in Centerton. Each year, we see families carrying home heavy stringers of hatchery-raised channel catfish, up to a limit of three per person.
I’ve always thought it’d be a great fundraiser for a civic club or church to set up a fish-cleaning service at the derby. They could charge a buck or two per catfish. A guy or gal skilled with an electric knife could filet a channel catfish in about 30 seconds. It’d be a money maker with a team of gifted fish cleaners.
At the derby last month, we mentioned that idea to the hatchery staff. They think it’s a good idea as well. I’ll wager mom and dad would be glad to pay a dollar or two per fish to have their catch cleaned so they wouldn’t have to deal with that mess at home.
Just a summertime thought when daydreaming about catfish.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org